Watch selfie turn into mini statue of you, fight Star Wars style at Mumbai’s first 3D printing hub
At Mumbai’s first 3D printing hub, Yoda, Bulbasaur and Einstein co-exist in harmony.
Time to 3D, which opened in Vile Parle a month ago, features several busts of popular fictional characters and even local residents. All have been created from scratch using the centre’s six three-dimensional printers.
Its founder, Rahul Shah, has been working in the field of 3D printing for several years. “I wanted to bring this technology directly to customers. Here, they can walk in and get a hands-on experience of how the process works.”
So how does it work? The process is simple, Shah explains. “A majority of people walk into the hub requesting 3D images of their selfies. To do this, we mount a scanner on an iPad, which uses infrared technology create a 3D image of the person, once we have filmed them from a 360° angle. We touch up the image on the iPad and then the printer does the rest.”
The applications of 3D printing are fast catching on with the city’s residents, from homemakers who come in to conceptualise jewellery designs to architecture and engineering students who order customised pieces for their projects and doctors who place orders for 3D printed internal organs so they can practise before a surgery.
“A doctor recently came in saying a patient had fallen off a train and cracked his skull. In the past, doctors would first try to fit a titanium plate in a patient’s skull. If the fit was off, they would take it out and file it down. Now, this process is redundant as the plate can be customised to the patient,” he says.
“We also make customised casts. Ordinary casts are made of plaster of Paris. They’re tight, itchy and you can’t get them wet. Here, we scan the patient’s arm to make a them cast that is waterproof and well-ventilated,” he adds.
Shah says the response to the project has been overwhelming, even as awareness about 3D printing is dismally low among Mumbaiites. “When we started the hub, we knew that not a lot of people knew what 3D printing was. The past month has only confirmed our suspicions. But, the reception has been good. A lot of women bring their children here, hoping to spark their interest in the subject. Sometimes, we get students who probably know more about the technology than we do. On the other hand, several people walk in wanting to experience 3D printing for the first time,” he says.
As if on cue, an elderly man walks into the store, looks around and says, “I don’t know anything about 3D printing, but…” Raj Bhanushali, an employee, later tells me the man has ordered a 3D bust of his late friend. “We get a lot of orders for 3D busts of people who have died. Their friends and family see this as a sentimental gesture.” Busts range from 1.5 inches, which cost Rs1,000, to 6 inches.
“A client recently requested a 12-inch bust, which we’re working on for the first time,” says Shah.
While the printers predominantly use plastic to mould these 3D creations, the demand for sandstone, gold, silver and titanium creations is picking up. The hub also experimented with 3D models made from chocolate. “Unfortunately, the product started melting while it was still in the process of being built. We’re still working on it,” says Shah.
The hub also uses a product called a ‘doodle pen’, which works just as an ordinary pen does, except the ink is replaced by a filament. The pen heats the filament, which solidifies when a stencil is traced. Time to 3D’s employees have used the pen to create models of bridges and miniature animals.
“Every day is a challenge as each client wants something new. We can print anything under the sun. I can print this chair if you ask me to, it’s just the ‘how’ that needs to be figured out,” says Shah.
He adds that he sees the technology making significant leaps in the future. “The technology is still in its nascent stage. In the future, the printing process will be faster and we’ll be able to work with a wider range of materials. I’ve heard that companies in the US are working with pancake batter and jam. Maybe we’ll be able to 3D print food in the future,” he says wistfully.